Today I’m thrilled to welcome Chris Curran (author of Mindsight and brand new novel, Her Turn to Cry) to my blog! Chris has written this brilliant post for me all about crime series versus standalone, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
When I first started writing crime the received wisdom from publishing professionals was that readers wanted series detectives. So that was what agents and editors were looking for. But as someone who preferred Ruth Rendell’s psychological suspense novels (often written as Barbara Vine) to her Inspector Wexford series and whose favourite Christie was the sinister standalone, Endless Night, it was this kind of book I wanted to write.
Although it was before the Gone Girl phenomenon, Gillian Flynn had already written her first brilliant psychological thriller, Sharp Objects, which went on to win two CWA daggers. Other wonderful writers of standalone crime, like Laura Wilson, were also having success so I knew there must be a market. In the event I had just completed my first novel, Mindsight, when psychological crime, domestic noir, grip-lit or whatever you choose to call it, became big news.
Crime series are still attracting hordes of readers of course and I love many of them myself. There’s something enormously satisfying about following a detective, professional or amateur, through a series of books. In effect you get two stories for the price of one: the immediate crime the sleuth is tasked with solving and the ongoing saga of their own, usually complex and often troubled, life.
Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brody, CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake, Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway and Sarah Hilary’s DI Marnie Rome all have fascinating back stories and personal lives that become more intriguing with each book. Who doesn’t want to know everything about Jackson Brody’s lost sister or to follow each new twist in Ruth Galloway’s on-off relationship with DCI Harry Nelson?
And then there are the side-kicks and the detective’s family and friends who often have their own enthralling and messy storylines. Marnie Rome’s sergeant, Noah Jakes, Shardlake’s assistant, Barak, and Ruth Galloway’s druid friend, Cathbad, as well as her gorgeous daughter, Kate. In fact several of these characters seem complicated and vivid enough to head their own series.
Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels are interesting because they straddle the divide between series and standalone as a different detective takes centre stage with each new novel. It’s a clever ploy although, like many readers, I’m still dying to know the rest of Rob Ryan’s story, which was left tantalizingly open-ended in the first novel.
So what are the virtues of the standalone? One advantage is that readers can come to each book in any order with no previous knowledge required. This means that the author doesn’t have to hold up the narrative to reveal details of the ongoing saga. And, although one of the delights of the series is following the development of recurring characters, there is a danger that these can become so enthralling that they overwhelm the criminal case featured in this particular book. Alternatively the author may withhold too much and alienate readers by refusing ever to satisfy their curiosity.
In contrast all readers of a standalone start the book knowing nothing about any of the characters. No pattern has been established in previous novels so anything could happen. Since we are not looking at events through the perceptions of a trustworthy and familiar detective it can feel as if a safety net has been removed, which adds a delicious sense of menace. Anyone could die and anyone, including the narrator, could be deceiving us. Could even be the murderer.
There is a heightened intensity to many standalones because the characters are usually ordinary people intimately involved with the crime and are often blundering around feeling terrified and helpless. Or of course they might be hiding a guilty secret or even turn out to be a manipulative psychopath.
The standalone writer is not restricted by an established location or set of procedures and is at liberty to travel in time and space both between books and within a novel. My first book, Mindsight, was set in contemporary Hastings on the south coast of England, whereas my second, Her Turn To Cry, moves from the variety theatres of the 1950s to the heart of swinging 60s London.
In fact writers of standalones do tend to follow certain themes in their work. Flynn is obsessed with dysfunctional families and manipulative women, Cathi Unsworth explores popular music culture, and the dark underbelly the 20th century, whilst Megan Abbott’s compelling and unsettling novels often deal with hyper-competitive teenage girls.
For the reader it’s a matter of choose your poison or, like me, have it both ways. Nor must it be either/or for the writer. Like Ruth Rendell and Agatha Christie, Laura Wilson began a detective series with Stratton’s War. And I have a police character in mind for my own next book – so who knows.
About Her Turn to Cry
London, 1965. Top model Joycie Todd lives a glittering life with photographer Marcus Blake. But her childhood tells a different story…
When she was eleven, Joycie’s mother disappeared. Run away with another man, so everyone says. But Joycie can’t forget the thumps she heard in the night, or the bloodstained rug hidden under the bed. A rug that was gone the next day.
Twelve years later, Joycie has left her past behind. But when an old friend dies, Joycie is left a letter beseeching her to find out the truth. Unable to keep the door locked any longer, Joycie sets out to discover why her mother left her – if she ever really did.
As she travels to the shabby seaside towns of her childhood, Joycie soon finds that it’s not just her mother who vanished all those years ago. Joycie knows the disappearances are connected, she just doesn’t know how. But there’s someone out there who does – and they will do anything to keep it buried.
Her Turn to Cry is out now in ebook and is due to be published in print on 8th September 2016 in the UK. Available from Amazon
About the author
I was born in London but now live in St Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings, on the south coast of England, in a house groaning with books. I left school at sixteen to work in the local library – my dream job then and now – and spent an idyllic few months reading my way around the shelves. Reluctantly returning to full-time education I gained my degree from Sussex University. Since then I have worked as an actress, script writer, copy editor and teacher, all the time looking forward to the day when I would see my own books gracing those library shelves.
You can find Chris on her blog: chriscurranauthor.com
Facebook: Chris Curran
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